Home > Stories > East AND West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 3)
East AND West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 3)

April 8, 2014

By Angela Jeffs

March 2014

When we met a year ago, my first student in Scotland of the Proprioceptive Writing method was very unhappy. She had moved from Kenya after several decades, and three years on was floundering.

After one WRITE (and within weeks) she was on a plane back to Kenya, returning greatly resolved. “I realized that while everyone I knew there was the same, I had changed. I had moved on far more than I’d ever imagined.”

We met again last week and she has made enormous strides. Now a university student, she has new friends, new goals and (while juggling the needs of family) a new life.  The young woman who had been to the doctor 12 months ago seeking drugs for depression, was gone to the wind.

How wonderful that I could help her help herself so quickly and dramatically. If only I could do the same for myself.

The last weeks have not been good.  It is taking forever to recover from first, bronchitis, and then labrynthitis (an inner ear problem that quite literally threw me off balance). Work has hiccupped. The weather is freezing. (As Scottish comedian Billy Connolly quips: There are only two seasons in Scotland, winter and June.)

I began to sink into the “poor me” feeling that I’d lost everything: friends, career, youth, health, motivation, recognition and acceptance, and so on…

Even though I had made the decision to move country to start afresh, I felt abandoned – both physically and emotionally – again.

Why AGAIN? Because I realize that in this second more difficult year after leaving Japan, ill health and loss of energy triggered a rerun of old psychological programming.

This recognition has me reaching for books on the Enneagram, which have so supported me in the past.

This nine-pointed symbol, used originally by the Sufi to bring adherents into spiritual balance, is nowadays applied as an evolutionary tool for encouraging personality towards wellbeing.

I was pretty disintegrated when after yet another breakdown I was first introduced to the Ennea (9, in Greek) gram (from diagram). Initially, I resisted, as do many who reject the idea of being classified on a scale of 1-9. “I’m an individual, not a number!”

When I eventually identified myself at a 4 and read my type description, it was a homecoming. I was not crazy, as imagined; I was just a number, with a well-defined route to recovering wholeness.

Now I am a relatively healthy Romantic Individualist, transitioning (working) towards the Enneagram 2: the Giver. Channeling the 4’s inclination to self-absorption outwards, towards helping others. From here, the 4 integrates (by leaping across) into the Anger triad to the courageous and fair-minded Protector (8), using attributes (that can so easily deteriorate into revengeful confrontation) to energise others.  This boosts 2 in healthy fashion, and enables 4 to steer clear of internalizing feelings.

Turning to The Pocket Ennegram (Helen Palmer, 1995), which just happens to be closest to hand, I reflect on my lifelong need for self-understanding, which leads to an ongoing examination of self. Because of old wounds (my emotional needs not being acknowledged as a child) any better understanding of self drags up the fear of being found defective, which in turn pushes me into fantasy.

I remember my world view as an E4: Something is missing. Others have it. I’m different from them because I don’t.

The feeling that I have been deserted and that no-one understands me induces melancholy, sadness, envy and (if not nipped in the bud before reaching this stage) desperation. Not envy of the jealous kind, but that which fuels a search for what is missing in repeating cycle of desire, acquisition, disappointment and rejection.

I know this cycle very well. Whether in choosing where to live, a career, or a partner, we 4s eventually become convinced that we have made a mistake, that happiness lies elsewhere, so making it seem perfectly natural to move on.

Was this in play when I chose to leave Japan? Am I now wondering if I have made yet another mistake and need to go elsewhere?

I focus on another clue: that my E4 strategy for self-survival is a dauntless recklessness; my fearless (but also intimidating or often downright worrying) leaps into change this way and that regardless of inherent dangers.

Looking back, I am astounded at my behavior, the risks I took. Friends thought me brave when I sold up everything and went to Japan. Actually I can see now that it was desperation in action: living through my feelings first and foremost, without any heed for the consequences.

What helps Romantics like me?  (Over to Helen…)

  • Loss is real. (Whether parents, a partner, a country…) It needs to be properly mourned and then set aside.
  • Self-absorbed sadness can be broken down by physical activity and service to others. (So I garden, I volunteer, I write, I guide… curtailed by illness, I need to get back to them)
  • Eliminate self-sabotages and incompletes. Finish projects. (Not so bad at this, but do need to get back to my books: writing and publishing)
  • See through push-pull patterns of relating. Romantics desire the unavailable and reject what’s easy to obtain. (So true, so true…)
  • Discover a version in oneself of what is enviable in others. (Need to address this, but not easy)
  • Quiet the attraction towards dramatic acting out. (Not half as bad as I used to be, but still…) Inform others about how to handle mood swings. The steady presence of a partner softens fears of abandonment. (But this steadiness can be perceived as boring, a negative, resulting in what is needed being pushed away… I must be careful here)
  • Focus on what is good in what’s available (Scotland) rather than on what’s missing (Japan)
  • Build support systems to handle periods of sadness. (I had created these over 26 years in Japan, but not here, yet…)
  • Expect that intimacy may trigger fears of loss and abandonment (happening all the time… the nicer  - more tolerant and patient – my partner is to me, the more I distrust it… not him, IT)
  • Recognise the sweetness of melancholy and the ability to help others in pain.

Just working my way through this has made me feel much better, more stable, less panic-stricken.

Like that terrier shaking a bone to get to the marrow (February, part 2), I will be shaking my E4-ness up and down and from side to side through this lifetime for sure. For now, however, I realize I am almost ready to go back to Japan, to visit, touch base… October, I am thinking.

Hopefully, like the student who returned to Kenya and found her own romantic longing put to rest once and for all, I shall return from Japan more resolved and at ease.

A friend, who took her family to Australia from Japan in 2012 commented this morning on FACEBOOK, that when she sees photos of cherry blossom and finds herself in danger of falling into a nostalgic reverie, she has to only remember (in political terms) the numbers of homeless camped under these self-same cherry trees in many of Japan’s city parks, to restore her equilibrium.

All the photos posted daily – and TV programmes broadcast here – continue show Japan’s surface, and very beautiful and reassuring it mostly remains. But I know that underneath there is another much darker side. As anywhere, even here… but that’s another story.

Japan? In my heart, which is now more at home. But I need to get on with life here, which includes trying to link Tohoku with Scotland by means of a scholarship fund or possible homestay scheme.

Time to put the book away. Time to stop internalizing (some hope!) Time to get busy.

Also by Angela:

- East AND West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 2)

- East AND West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 1)

- East AND West: Walking the Wood

- East AND West: Clearing the burn

- East AND West: Re-arranged

- East to West: Taking Responsibility

About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs ( stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within. Her latest book, Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail into the Past, can be ordered via
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